Why I’m grateful for my failures: A 20-something life lesson

I’ve made a lot of promises to myself recently. I cut up my credit card, I’m trying to say “yes” more often, I kicked my nightly ice cream habit down to two (OK, four) times a week (it’s ice cream, people!), and after having suffered a blow to the heart not too long ago, I’ve decided to start dating again. I made these promises because I strive to be in a constant state of improvement, but also because I have this crazy idea that the more I plan, the less likely I am to —well, insert the F-word here.


Having somewhat of a perfectionistic personality, failure scares me even more than finding out I paid full price for that super-cute summer dress right before it went on clearance. To say that I have had my fair share of rejection is putting it lightly. The path to my dream job wasn’t smooth or straight by any means. In fact, it was the Lombard Street of journeys. (Shout-out to all my friends in San Fran!) It was a three-year blur of résumés, cover letters, interviews and nos: some in-person, some over the phone, and of course the ever-so-thoughtful computer-generated email. I knew I shouldn’t have told so many dad jokes. Was it my hair? Am I really not qualified to be a librarian even though I’ve been basically living, eating, and breathing books since I could crawl? I like to think that I am a very confident person, but after so much rejection, that confidence began to waiver.

Then there was my personal life. Ugh. Dating is just all of the hardest, isn’t it? There was a point in my early 20s where it seemed as if I was doomed to meet an amazing guy — doomed because we never did more than meet. I’d find someone who seemed sweet, charming, and funny, we’d talk about our favorite movies and bands over a shared plate of tacos, and end the night on a pretty great note. Annnd then I would never hear from him again. After the first time, I said shame on him, I am a catch, damnit! But when it happened over and over again, I began to wonder if the problem was with me. I knew I shouldn’t have told so many dad jokes. Was it my hair? Am I really not qualified to date some dude who still lived with his parents?!

So, yeah, I’m no stranger to failure. But as frustrating and upsetting as it was, I’m still kind of grateful for it. You see, lately I’ve been learning that failure is both (a) necessary and (b) inevitable. If you’re trying to change, to grow, to learn, you will fail. If you don’t, then you’re probably doing something wrong: not challenging yourself, not really putting yourself out there, not aiming as high as you could.

If I was handed the best job on a silver platter right out of college, I wouldn’t have learned how resilient I could be. With each rejection, I became a little stronger and more determined. I became an expert in interviews and my confidence grew tenfold. And that experience, in itself, became part of my skill set. I believe if I hadn’t failed, so to speak, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now, doing what I love, because I wouldn’t have pursued the position as vigorously or been as prepared or confident to deal with different people and pushback and disappointment.

The same goes for my relationships. They say that you have to kiss a lot of frogs in order to find your prince. In my case, I had to eat a lot of nachos while listening to many a guy talk about how impressive his dead lifts were. (Note to self: find out what a dead lifts is.) Rejection hurts no matter what, but through that heartbreak, I discovered that I had to trust myself to know that I was worth the extra guacamole, and also what qualities I really valued in a boyfriend-type person.

Failure stinks. It’s sad, it’s discouraging, it makes you doubt yourself. It allows you to get close enough to your dreams to smell the Old Spice aftershave only to see them slip from your grasp. It buries you in a pint of Chunky Monkey (or is that only me?)

But it’s also a fact of life. And how you deal with it is part of what will guarantee your later success. In my own experience, the key to change has always been showing myself a little mercy. Try as you may, there will be days that are harder than others, when you’ll want to quit or give up on yourself. And on those days it’s OK to give yourself a break, to wallow a little, before you get back to kicking ass, and when you do, keep this little nugget from the amazing, accomplished, esteemed J.K. Rowling in mind: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

Boom! Failure is not necessarily a consequence of success, but it is necessary for its acquisition. So, yes, if you don’t try, then you won’t fail. But if you never fail, you never tried, you never dared yourself, you never learned anything. My friends, failure is very much an option. I hope you fail, and fail hard, at something, tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. Because the sooner you do, the sooner you’re going to succeed.

[Image via here]